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Feature


Georges (Daniel Auteuil) is a TV literary critic and has a stable life with his publisher wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their twelve-year-old son Pierrot. That is until someone starts sending video tapes containing surveillance footage of the family. There is no immediate clue to indicate who is sending the tapes and they start to suspect anyone and everyone before taking their frustrations out on each other, which threatens to drive the family members apart.

As clues emerge, Georges realises the campaign against his family may be related to an incident in his childhood (and a rarely-mentioned incident in French history). Georges must confront his guilt about the past if he is to solve the mystery of who is sending the tapes.

Hidden
Directed by Austrian director Michael Haneke, Hidden unashamedly avoids Hollywood devices and structure. The film opens with a very long take which we then learn is the first tape that has been sent to Georges. I watched it with my girlfriend and she made a very good point after a few minutes: “less patient people would have turned this off by now.” She was dead right: Haneke purposely avoids the popular rhythm of movie-making. As viewers, we are subconsciously programmed to expect edits at certain points to keep the story moving at a pace we are used to but Hidden takes its time. This is Michael Haneke’s film and he wants you to make a decision: sit there and enjoy something vastly different from the norm or turn it off.

The storyline is not incredibly original—it could easily be the basis for a TV-movie—but in the end you are left trying to put the pieces together, rather than trying to pretend you saw the twist coming an hour earlier. Although it is slowly paced, every scene in Hidden is important in either showing the effects of the tapes on the family or presenting you with another piece of the puzzle.

The problem that many people have with the film is that you’re not given enough information to piece everything together but this is what I loved about it. You know that Haneke could write one more scene that would pull it all together but he decided not to. He even states in the interview on the DVD that he wrote dialogue for the last scene (keep watching as the credits roll) but left it out on purpose to make the whole film more ambiguous.

Hidden
To maintain realism, Hidden has no music on its soundtrack. This serves to make the film all the more unpredictable. When the shocking turning point comes, we are forced to take in the experience as well as the characters on-screen without the relief of music or sound effects. The use of long shots starts to become more and more confusing as the film goes on. Are we seeing through the eyes of one of the characters? Is it a dream? Is it surveillance footage? If so, who is watching it?

Hidden is guaranteed to do your head in for one of two reasons. You will either buy in to the story and the way it is told and be left scratching your head or you will tire of the director’s techniques and eject the disc from your DVD player and throw it out of the window. I rate great films as those that show me something I haven’t seen before and keep me talking for hours or even days after. Hidden certainly did that for me and I can’t recommend it highly enough, although I can understand why its detractors consider it arty and pretentious.

Hidden

Video


Filmed on high definition digital cameras, Hidden looks very good, with none of the imperfections you expect with transfers from film. Though not exactly impressive in the way it is framed due to the intentional amateur look of many shots, there are some beautiful moments, especially the later scenes with Georges and Anne in the shadows of their house and the picture does not suffer at all. The blacks are solid and there are no noticeable signs of compression.

Something I realised about the video quality after watching the film was that it was actually too good. In order to confuse the viewer and make it difficult to differentiate between real footage and the surveillance tapes, every shot is of the same quality. In reality, the video tapes would be of a lower quality than the rest of the film.

Hidden

Audio


The fact of the matter is that Hidden would be almost as effective without any audio at all. There’s no music, no sound effects and dialogue is kept to a minimum. The common theme in the audio feed is silence, which I suppose is effective at increasing tension because there is no crackling through the slightly unnecessary 5.1 channels.

Extras


Although lacking a commentary track, the most valuable extra here is the interview with Michael Haneke. Rather than the usual junket interviews with everyone patting each other on the back, it is more of a deconstruction of several key scenes by the director himself. He explains some of the finer points but also points out that he isn’t too sure what’s going on at times and teases us with his thoughts about what might be happening on screen. If you found Hidden a difficult experience, this extra will probably infuriate you even more.

The ‘Making of’ documentary feels like it was made to fill a gap in French TV schedules. It contains behind the scenes footage and talking head interviews with the director and the main star. As with the interview, there isn’t much more explanation about the film and everyone tends to talk in riddles.

Hidden
There is a token addition of the director and main stars’ filmographies to pad out the extras list and a theatrical trailer which is edited together to look more like a mainstream film and even includes the typical sound effects you expect in a thriller that the movie is a great pains to avoid.

Overall


Hidden is a very clever film that sometimes edges close to too-clever-for-it’s-own-good territory but never goes off the rails with twist after twist. The director’s approach will put as many viewers off as those it entertains but for those who make it through, it is a thought-provoking and well-structured thriller. The DVD extras provide the same function as the film: offering a little more detail without ever giving you the complete story.


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